Thursday, December 14, 2017

The minnow and the whale

One of the more amusing aspects of flying is the discrepancy in size between many aircraft.  Here's a fun meetup on the runway:  a Bombardier Dash 8 commuter airliner (capacity usually about 35-75 depending on fuselage length, maximum takeoff weight up to 30-odd metric tons) takes off immediately ahead of an Airbus A340-600, at one time the longest commercial airliner in the world (capacity up to 375 [comparable to Boeing's biggest 777's or its 747], maximum takeoff weight up to 330 metric tons).  The contrast is eye-catching.

Like I said:  the minnow and the whale!


The nightmare world

I've written more than once about child sexual abuse, particularly in the context of the Catholic Church's clergy crisis.  (For my personal experience of how that played out, see here.  To see all my articles on that subject, in reverse chronological order, click here.)  I also had not inconsiderable contact with child molesters and abusers as a prison chaplain.  I wrote about some cases in my memoir of prison ministry.

However, nothing can capture the agony of child abuse, mental, spiritual and physical, like the recollections of an abused child.  Moira Greyland is one such person.  Daughter of famed science fiction and fantasy author, Marion Zimmer Bradley, and her husband, convicted pedophile Walter H. Breen, she was abused by both of them, rampantly and repeatedly, for many years.  In a 2014 letter to blogger Deirdre Saoirse Moen, Ms. Greyland said this:

The first time she molested me, I was three. The last time, I was twelve, and able to walk away.

I put Walter in jail for molesting one boy. I had tried to intervene when I was 13 by telling Mother and Lisa, and they just moved him into his own apartment.

I had been living partially on couches since I was ten years old because of the out of control drugs, orgies, and constant flow of people in and out of our family “home.”

None of this should be news. Walter was a serial rapist with many, many, many victims (I named 22 to the cops) but Marion was far, far worse. She was cruel and violent, as well as completely out of her mind sexually. I am not her only victim, nor were her only victims girls.

There's more at the link.  You can read here her more detailed account of her abuse, including her rape by her father, and the psychological conditioning and grooming from both her parents that still affects her.

Her brother, too, was the sexual victim of his parents.  He's spoken about it here.  (If that screen is hard to read, highlight the text.  It will stand out from the background.)  It scarred him for life.

I live in an echo chamber where memories of yesterday can swell up into thunderstorms of thought and go rolling through my troubled valleys like a drunken Zeus hurtling thunderbolts in every direction laughing to raise the dead. And it does, corpses of memory before me shaking to the Monster Mash and filling my eyes with what I try so hard not to see.

Physical. Absolutely. But that is so much easier to bear than head games. Screaming is bad, but little whispers and threats work so much better to chill your blood and recreate being cold and naked hiding under tables hearing the shouting. To be "Bone Chewing Bear", robbing the plates of every scrap of food you could find. Life got better as I got older and there was more money, but the earth could turn any day to seeing the big cat stalking in her skin. I flinch from hands and eyes and am very polite and patient day by day by...

Mental. My god, I have no way to say this. Words work so well on me; before long the raised hand I am cowering from becomes reflex. The face is the face of guessing moment by moment what she would bring. As I got older humiliation and embarrassment became the thing and more and more indirectly as time went by.

There was no believing she was getting better as you could not tell which one of her would wake up at any moment. It is so much easier to bear being hurt yourself than being blamed for someone hurting someone else. The shame from that alone is this boulder I have hanging around my neck.

Again, more at the link.

Now Ms. Greyland has written a book, 'The Last Closet: The Dark Side of Avalon', describing, in detail, what it meant to grow up as the victim of such abuse.

The blurb reads as follows:

Marion Zimmer Bradley was a bestselling science fiction author, a feminist icon, and was awarded the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement. She was best known for the Arthurian fiction novel THE MISTS OF AVALON and for her very popular Darkover series.

She was also a monster.

THE LAST CLOSET: The Dark Side of Avalon is a brutal tale of a harrowing childhood. It is the true story of predatory adults preying on the innocence of children without shame, guilt, or remorse. It is an eyewitness account of how high-minded utopian intellectuals, unchecked by law, tradition, religion, or morality, can create a literal Hell on Earth.

THE LAST CLOSET is also an inspiring story of survival. It is a powerful testimony to courage, to hope, and to faith. It is the story of Moira Greyland, the only daughter of Marion Zimmer Bradley and convicted child molester Walter Breen, told in her own words.

I think this is an extraordinarily important book.  I believe we all need to understand the horrifying impact of child sexual abuse on its victims.  Most of them can't speak for themselves.  I commend and applaud Ms. Greyland's courage in speaking out, not just for herself, but on their behalf, too.

On a personal note, I find this book a ghastly reminder of why I took the stand I did when the Catholic Church hierarchy signally failed (and has continued to fail to this day) to address the issue of clergy sexual abuse in any meaningful way.  I don't think the bishops, archbishops and cardinals in general have any idea of just how horrifying is the reality of child sex abuse.  If they did, I can't believe they would have allowed their neglect of the situation to continue for so long.  Nevertheless, they did . . . and the result for the Church has been catastrophic.  By their wrong actions and deliberate inaction, they have destroyed the faith of millions - their faith in the Church, certainly, and in tragically many cases, their faith in God too.  That destruction will be weighed in the scales against them when they come to the Judgment we all must face.  I would not like to be in their shoes when that happens.

I can only suggest most strongly that you read Ms. Greyland's book for yourself.  Right now, today, there are tens of thousands of children among us who are going through what she went through.  May her story motivate all of us to do better for them, to help them escape their living nightmare;  and may all of us do our utmost to ensure that those who abuse them are prevented from ever doing so again.  Furthermore, may all those seeking to justify such abuse (for example, NAMBLA and its supporters) be publicly called out for the scum they are.  Let them be treated in the same way as abusers.  They deserve no less.


Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Hard at work

Sorry about the light blogging today.  I'm about 82,000 words into my work in progress, and I'd like to finish it by next week, so that I can get it out to alpha readers.  They can read it over the next week or two, and make suggestions and comments, which I'll incorporate in the publication version.

I've been working very hard on the book over the past few weeks, and the end is in sight. With luck, you'll see another military science fiction novel in January.  Wish me luck!


Doofus Of The Day #991

The video speaks for itself.  Courtesy of Wirecutter:


Tuesday, December 12, 2017

If an app is free, is it trustworthy?

In the case of some popular software, not necessarily.

Personal data belonging to over 31 million customers of a popular virtual keyboard app has leaked online, after the app's developer failed to secure the database's server.

The server is owned by Eitan Fitusi, co-founder of AI.type, a customizable and personalizable on-screen keyboard, which boasts more than 40 million users across the world.

But the server wasn't protected with a password, allowing anyone to access the company's database of user records, totaling more than 577 gigabytes of sensitive data.

. . .

Each record contains a basic collected data, including the user's full name, email addresses, and how many days the app was installed. Each record also included a user's precise location, including their city and country.

. . .

More complete records also include the device's IMSI and IMEI number, the device's make and model, its screen resolution, and the device's specific Android version.

A large portion of the records also included the user's phone number and the name of their cell phone provider, and in some cases their IP address and name of their internet provider if connected to Wi-Fi. Many records contain specific details of a user's public Google profile, including email addresses, dates of birth, genders, and profile photos.

We also found several tables of contact data uploaded from a user's phone. One table listed 10.7 million email addresses, while another contained 374.6 million phone numbers. It's not clear for what reason the app uploaded email addresses and phone numbers of contacts on users' phones.

Several tables contained lists of each app installed on a user's device, such as banking apps and dating apps.

There's more at the link.  It makes for disturbing reading.

This is very worrying for two reasons.  The first and most obvious is that the app developer did not password-protect user information, leaving it vulnerable to hacking.  The second, more insidious concern is that most users probably did not have any idea of how much information about them and their telephones, contacts, etc. the app was collecting.  Privacy?  What privacy?

This is by no means the only instance where a 'free' app proved to be risky at best.  One of the best-known cleanup programs, CCleaner (the free version of which I've used myself for a very long time), was recently infected with malware, which downloaded itself to users along with a program update.  That affected my computer, too.  It took a lot of hard work by a lot of people, and disruption to many users' computers, to deal with the problem.

Moral of the story:  free software isn't necessarily free of malware, viruses, and bugs.  Even paid software isn't immune.  Use at your own risk.


When the cure for terrorism is worse than the disease

There's a conundrum in anti-terror operations.  Military necessity dictates stopping, killing and capturing terrorists.  However, the priorities of ordinary citizens are, more often than not, simply survival;  and, after survival, the security of their property and possessions.  This has led to many situations where military counter-terror operations have been opposed by local civilians, on the grounds that they are suffering more from them than the terrorists.  (Iraq and Afghanistan have provided many examples.)

The most recent such situation occurred in Marawi, in the Philippines, earlier this year.

More than six months after Filipino and foreign fighters claiming allegiance to the Islamic State stormed this lakeside city, setting off a monthslong war with U.S.-backed Philippine troops, liberated Marawi lies in ruins and its people seethe.

The heart of the city has been bombed and burned beyond recognition, its domed mosques pierced by mortar fire. Homes stand roofless, blackened. There are armored vehicles on the streets.

Some 200,000 residents are still scattered across the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, living with weary relatives or in displacement camps thick with mud and worry.

Those who have been allowed to return found their homes sacked and looted - safes open, jewelry snatched, appliances gone.

Many are angry at the men who seized their city in a failed bid to establish a caliphate, taking hostages and targeting civilians. They are angry, too, at the forces that fought those men, namely the Philippine army and its backer, the United States.

. . .

In late May, Philippine troops stormed a compound in Marawi, expecting to make some arrests. Instead, they set off fighting that lasted more than 150 days.

After a prolonged gun battle, the Philippine army slowly pushed the militants toward the city's center, where they dug in. "It was heavy urban fighting," said Col. Romeo Brawner, a U.S.-trained soldier who is now the deputy commander of a Marawi task force.

. . .

More than six months after the fighting started and more than two months after Duterte declared Marawi liberated, it still looks and feels like a war zone, with the destruction centered in the city's heart, along the shore of Lake Lanao, and radiating outward.

The center is a no-go zone controlled by soldiers. Militants had turned the houses that are still standing into snipers' nests, where furniture has been trashed and pro-Islamic State graffiti is still on the walls.

It may be years before the main battleground is habitable. At the periphery, where people have been allowed to move back and schools are reopening, families are returning to wrecked and emptied homes.

. . .

The bombing is a source of tremendous anger here. "Why didn't they warn us, 'Hey, be prepared because we are going to deploy an airstrike?' " asked Drieza Lininding, a displaced resident who runs the Moro Consensus Group, a nonprofit that seeks to counter radicalization.

The strikes sent people fleeing without money, documents, weapons and other valuables - much of which has since been taken from damaged homes. The military denies assertions that it was behind systematic looting, but civilians, including Lininding, are not sold.

"Who are we going to blame for that looting? Nobody could do this without using a truck," he said.

There's more at the link, along with photographs.  It's well worth clicking over there to read the article in full.

I remember seeing many similar situations in Africa, in South Africa, Rhodesia, Mozambique, Angola, the Congo, Rwanda and other countries.  In every case, government and/or military priorities dictated an offensive against terrorists.  In every case, the locals suffered because of it.  Many died.  Many lost loved ones, even entire families.  Many lost everything they owned.  None of them could understand how their government could completely ignore their needs and priorities, in order to concentrate on the military mission of killing terrorists.

I don't have an answer to that conundrum.  All I know is, having seen at first hand how innocent people suffer through military and/or terrorist action on both sides, my preference is to work against terrorists in less indiscriminate ways.  Military action may, indeed, be unavoidable;  but could not military forces do more to evacuate civilians from danger zones, or refrain from using weapons that target an area, regardless of who may be in it?  As for fighting in a major urban environment, that's virtually guaranteed to cause mass civilian casualties, simply because they're stuck there.  Avenues in and out are likely to be blocked by fighting, or damage resulting from fighting.  Who's going to pay any attention to their needs?  With the notable exception of US and First World armies, most soldiers will not.  Their priority is to stay alive themselves, and to hell with anything and anyone who stands in the way of that.  As General George S. Patton famously said, "The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his."  Most combat veterans of my acquaintance (including myself, when I was still wearing a uniform) would wholeheartedly agree.

I truly feel for the citizens of Marawi.  They've been largely abandoned by their government.  What does their future hold?  Only what they can rebuild for themselves.  It's a cold, hard, brutal world out there.


A piece of aviation history

The Sikorsky R-4 was the first helicopter to go into mass production for the US armed forces (and a few for Britain's Royal Air Force).  Between 1942 and 1944, 131 were built.

The aircraft was announced to the public in 1942.  It was the first time most people had ever heard the word 'helicopter', and the aircraft's capabilities were, at the time, extraordinary.  Here's the first publicity film of the R-4.

The R-4 saw combat in Burma, where it was used for combat rescue and casualty evacuation from the thick jungle.  You can read about its first combat rescue mission here.  It also made the first helicopter landing on a ship, in trials aboard the British merchant ship Empire Mersey in 1944.

The R-4 wasn't very successful, being grossly under-powered, but it was the first of its kind.  More and better successors would build on the foundation it laid.


Monday, December 11, 2017

Browsing cat is browsing

I think Ashbutt's trying to tell us, "You'd better not be looking at pictures of other cats!"


The solution to rape and sexual assault

From Just Violet on Gab:

True dat.  I prefer ladies who use the bullet box as well as the ballot box.


A conspiracy of lies

Glenn Greenwald, famous for breaking the news about Edward Snowden, has published a devastating critique of the US news media in general.  He as good as accuses them of deliberate conspiracy and subterfuge.  Here's an excerpt.

Friday was one of the most embarrassing days for the U.S. media in quite a long time. The humiliation orgy was kicked off by CNN, with MSNBC and CBS close behind, with countless pundits, commentators and operatives joining the party throughout the day. By the end of the day, it was clear that several of the nation’s largest and most influential news outlets had spread an explosive but completely false news story to millions of people, while refusing to provide any explanation of how it happened.

. . .

Think about what this means. It means that at least two — and possibly more — sources, which these media outlets all assessed as credible in terms of having access to sensitive information, all fed the same false information to multiple news outlets at the same time. For multiple reasons, the probability is very high that these sources were Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee (or their high-level staff members), which is the committee that obtained access to Trump Jr.’s emails, although it’s certainly possible that it’s someone else. We won’t know until these news outlets deign to report this crucial information to the public: which “multiple sources” acted jointly to disseminate incredibly inflammatory, false information to the nation’s largest news outlets?

. . .

Thus far, these media corporations are doing the opposite of what journalists ought to do: rather than informing the public about what happened and providing minimal transparency and accountability for themselves and the high-level officials who caused this to happen, they are hiding behind meaningless, obfuscating statements crafted by PR executives and lawyers.

How can journalists and news outlets so flamboyantly act offended when they’re attacked as being “Fake News” when this is the conduct behind which they hide when they get caught disseminating incredibly consequential false stories?

. . .

... what one should expect with journalistic “mistakes” is that they sometimes go in one direction, and other times go in the other direction. That’s exactly what has not happened here. Virtually every false story published goes only in one direction: to be as inflammatory and damaging as possible on the Trump/Russia story and about Russia particularly. At some point, once “mistakes” all start going in the same direction, toward advancing the same agenda, they cease looking like mistakes.

No matter your views on those political controversies, no matter how much you hate Trump or regard Russia as a grave villain and threat to our cherished democracy and freedoms, it has to be acknowledged that when the U.S. media is spewing constant false news about all of this, that, too, is a grave threat to our democracy and cherished freedom.

There's more at the link.

It's hard to argue with Mr. Greenwald's conclusions.  I think we have to accept that the US news media in general are now nothing more than a propaganda arm for political extremism.  That's not just the Democratic Party, either.  It's every progressive, left-wing, liberal cause du jour.  Anything or anyone straying from the path of political correctness is to be attacked and/or silenced - and selective reporting is as bad as censorship, in that it silences voices who think differently.

We are now in an era of deliberate, corporate-sponsored censorship of the news.  If that doesn't scare you, you don't deserve to live in a democracy.


Sunday, December 10, 2017

Sunday morning music

Let's have a bit of rock nostalgia - with added Cream.  Here's their complete reunion concert at the Royal Albert Hall, London, in 2005.

That brings back some memories;  but why do the boys look so old?  I mean, it was only yesterday . . . wasn't it?